• Prose and Purpose

    After 25 years on the job, a former provost examines the world on campus and in higher ed.


'I Want to Be a Producer' ...

... or a critic.


May 10, 2015

I keep hoping that The New York Times or Newsday will reach out to me and ask me to become one of their theater critics. I would do an excellent job, and I bring an important additional dimension to my work as a critic, in that I am first and foremost an educator. The arts for me, are an absolutely critical dimension of a good education. For instance, they provide a wonderful venue for a more sophisticated understanding of culture or of history.

This year’s Broadway shows help illustrate this point. An American in Paris is a wonderful production with excellent music and breathtaking ballet sequences. But it also provides valuable insights regarding Paris after World War II. Gigi in the original version could also give insights on societal norms at the time but the new Broadway version while enjoyable has its societal norms updated to take into consideration contemporary sensitivities about what is and what is not appropriate behavior. A discussion of the changes from the original could provide excellent insights on how dramatically society has changed.  It Shoulda Been You presents a very humorous look at cultural clashes and societal expectations; it could certainly be a good topic of discussion in a sociology class. On The Twentieth Century provides an enjoyable insight into a time when trains were the pivotal form of mass transit. Doctor Zhivago covers the Russian revolution.  And The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time provides spellbinding insight on the mind of an autistic young man. 

Under full disclosure, my assessment of theater providing a more sophisticated understanding of culture or history doesn’t always work. Something Rotten, the alleged story of the birth of musicals, was hilarious and thoroughly enjoyable but it is very clear that this story of the Bottom brothers and Will Shakespeare has no basis in reality. However, I’m actually looking forward to seeing it again.

The best of the shows this year, in my opinion, is actually an off Broadway production that will be transitioning to Broadway this summer. Hamilton, Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story is absolutely brilliant and may be the best show I have seen in recent years. The show focuses on the adult life of Alexander Hamilton. Everything about it is clever and the author and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, deserves enormous credit for an outstanding original masterpiece. I loved In the Heights (my neighborhood when I was a kid) but Hamilton is in a different league. Not only did I enjoy the show but I will be doing more reading on Hamilton and Burr to have a greater understanding of them and the birth of our nation.

Theater is valuable at every level. It is a critical part of K-12 education and should be an important part of our lives thereafter. We are all enriched and enlightened by the arts. I’m not sure I will get the opportunity to be a critic but I’ll always be a fan.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.


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